That means very targeted mailings, phone calls, and door-knocking — which in turn means that they won't even be trying to get their message to the vast majority of Boston residents.

The situation will likely enlarge the already outsize role of labor unions and other endorsing organizations, say several campaign veterans. Those groups can mobilize their members to vote, in enough numbers to tilt a small-election result.

As top candidates vie for that crucial union backing, those unions become even more powerful, and make some of Menino's cost-saving reform plans even more difficult to enact.

Flaherty's chances may depend on unions — which once supported him solidly — helping him now that he is out of office, and on the outs with Menino. A few of the trade unions have already indicated they will back him, but some say there is considerable resistance.

Stephen Murphy, who did not get much union backing in his 2010 state treasurer campaign, says he is optimistic he can earn their support for re-election. John Connolly has alienated some in labor (and, some suggest, may be seen as a future mayoral rival by new Boston Building Trades Council President Marty Walsh).

NO NEW BOSTON?

Some observers fear that this quiet election, seen only by the city's most reliable voters, will skew the turnout, and the results, to "old Boston" — older, whiter, and with more years (even generations) in the city.

After all, in that low-turnout 2007 race, Connolly ousted the council's only Hispanic member, Felix D. Arroyo.

In the higher-turnout mayoral-election year of 2009, Arroyo's son won a seat, and Pressley became the first African-American woman ever elected to the council.

And it was in the 2005 mayoral-election year that Sam Yoon became the council's first Asian-American.

If the pattern holds, Arroyo or Pressley could lose to Flaherty. And it could also help District 2 incumbent Bill Linehan against a serious challenge from Lee, who is trying — as others like Susan Passoni have before — to claim that seat for its progressive South End side over its more conservative South Boston base.

Perhaps more important, observers of Dorchester politics suspect that low turnout will help usher in yet another white, Irish councilor from the southernmost Neponset/Cedar Grove/Adams Village part of the increasingly diverse District 3.

"[District 3] has gotten very diverse in the past 10 years, and that's good," says Sean Weir, president of the Cedar Grove Civic Association. But he acknowledges that the election to succeed Feeney will pit neighborhood against neighborhood, with his holding the historic advantage. "The seat has been down here for so long, it would be a shame to lose it."

Candidates include Stephanie Everett of Mattapan, an aide to State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz; State Representative Gloria Fox aide Mary-dith Tuitt, of Dorchester's Ashmont neighborhood; and Frank Baker of Savin Hill.

But some predict that John O'Toole and Craig Galvin, both over 40 and from the Cedar Grove portion of Dorchester, will face each other in the final election. O'Toole is thought to be close with Menino, while Galvin has worked on Flaherty's campaigns.

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